Part 1
A Long Walk to Health
By Laura Miller


nternally, the body is weak, desire is high, irritability intensives, anxiety increases, and lethargy surfaces. This happens to the human body when it hasn’t received the proper nourishment it needs. Imagine internally having to experience these physical issues,but externally, having to function and compete in modern-day explosive America.This is what hunger can look like in the

nternally, the body is weak, desire is high, irritability intensives, anxiety increases, and lethargy surfaces.This happens to the human body when it hasn’t received the proper nourishment it needs.

US. It can be less of what we might see in third-world countries, but the lingering effects over time have stark similarities.

Imagine internally having to experience these physical issues,but externally, having to function and compete in modern-day explosive America.This is what hunger can look like in the US. It can be less of what we might see in third-world countries, but the lingering effects over time have stark similarities.

According to the Department of Agriculture, every 1 and 5 Americans is food insecure. As the research narrows, There are over 500,000 Chicagoans who are designated as food insecure. This insecurity is measured by their availability and access to healthy and nutritional food. Studies show, unequivocally, that food security is a construct validated by zip code and often skin color. The association of unhealthy food options and a lack of nutritional foods is not a problem singular to Chicago.

However, the vivid contrast is that the places in which food insecurities within this city are the highest, are neighborhoods that have over 25% of its residents below poverty, and its residents are majorly Black and Brown.

Definitions of a Common Issue

Many terms have been used to describe Americans who are hungry and the places where they live. The terms include Food Deserts, Food Insecurity, and even Food Apartheid. The fact remains that with the rising cost of inflation and the lack of adequate nutritional options in various communities in Chicago we are potentially facing a more aggressive health crisis. To better understand the problem, it’s best to identify the terminology used to define the issue.

“Poverty and food deserts in communities of color often go hand and hand. More often than not, when you have poverty that is concentrated in specific areas, if you are looking at the general vicinity where people are living, you can see what sort of amenities are available.

Many times neighborhoods that are struggling socioeconomically don’t have strong economic engines or hubs. So it’s not a surprise that those are the neighborhoods that are going to be challenged with being able to get basic resources. To the extent that there are things that are servicing those neighborhoods but they are discounted, they are lower quality.

The word desert is thrown out a lot, it doesn’t just mean that there is no supermarket there, it might also mean the quality of food that is being presented is of poor nutrition.”  ~ Audra Wilson, Illinois Commission to EndHunger/Shriver Center For Poverty Law

The Income Barrier

Chicago’s racial separation is not new to Chicagoans. The wealth gap is not new to Chicagoans. The quality of their food access is no surprise to many. There are sharp contrasts in access to services, infrastructure, quality hospitals, food, and many other basic human needs.Through one lens, it would be easy to believe that these problems are based on capitalism. What is buried underneath is over a century’s worth of segregation that began during the Great Migration in the early 1900’s and still continues.

A Long Walk to Health

In the City of Chicago, not all privileges are created equal. While some residents can walk to the grocery store in as little as 5 minutes, others may have to walk for as long as 45 minutes. Chicago embodies a paradox—a city striving for inclusivity while perpetuating segregation. Its population comprises a nearly equal mix of White, Black, and Latinx residents, yet access to resources and living spaces remains segregated along racial and socioeconomic lines. The legacy of segregation in Chicago extends far beyond physical boundaries,manifesting in stark disparities in crime rates, health outcomes, and food accessibility that reflect the intended outcome of oppressed social economic growth of the Black community in Chicago.

Picture walking through the Auburn Gresham or Englewood streets after a long day at work, trying to hurriedly ensure that you can feed your family in less than 60 minutes. The walk within itself is filled with in some cases broken bottles, a few abandoned buildings,dialysis treatment centers, liquor stores, and churches, providing a view of a redemptive, and redeemable, slum.

Residents who live in these areas don’t see it this way, because while these things are visible, there are also touches of painted murals and Black pride that can’t help but provide the glimmer of hope necessary to keep walking or commuting long enough just  to serve enough green vegetables on the dinner table to ensure a balanced diet. The culture rich aspect of Black and Brown Chicago is hard to see for non residents through a capitalistic lens because the condition of the homes, bungalows, brownstones, and apartments in Black and Brown neighborhoods do not look the same as predominantly white neighborhoods.

Arles Jones, a resident in the Ashburn neighborhood, has to travel from his residence to Evergreen Park’s Meijer Grocery store. He does this once a month, his deacon provides him a ride to the store, which is 20 blocks (2.6) miles and 56 minutes walking distance away from his home. His deacon also aids him in carrying the groceries to his home. Jones, like (percentage) of the residents in Ashburn, is disabled and unable to work.

As a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and fixed income recipient, once his resources are depleted, he cannot return to the store for his strict no processed high protein diet suggested by his physician. When asked if Jones could afford a transportation system or take the bus, he confirmed,” I could take the bus or go on transportation, but I would have to carry all the things I need on the way back and I wouldn’t be able to make it because the trip is too long.“

His story, while slightly nuanced its not very different from many others within the city limits. CNW spoke with Airrion Purvis, a community leader and longtime Altgeld Gardens resident, who shared a similar story.

“Walmart offers the closest grocery store by distance, (less than three miles), but if you don’t have your own transportation that is a task. In comparison to having a branch store, like Rosebud Incorporated which used to be within the community. You have to catch the bus from 95th to go to 111th,  then wait on a bus there to get to the Walmart. “ Airrion Purvis, LLQ Hood Legend LLC

Then Vs. Now

In the 1960’s on the near west side’s Henry Horner Projects, Virginia Olive relocated to the North Side and later the north suburbs for better safety and education for her children. When asked about what life looked like before she left her community she noted.

“Growing up on the west side of Chicago, I took for granted the various stores and businesses that once thrived in my neighborhood. From Black owned grocery stores to restaurants, a laundromat, and a record store, these amenities were apart of my daily life.

However, their decline has had a profound impact on the community. Not only have we lost a sense of safety, but we've also had to rely on longer commutes for essential needs. The loss of these businesses has left a void in our community that is still felt today.” 

“There used to be two different doctor’s offices, grocery stores, (produce and meat) selections, and a functioning school system from K-12. You don’t have the same accessibility. Those things have been replaced by something that doesn’t fit in the slot. We have a brand new cultural center, but there is no food out here.” Airrion Purvis, Co-Founder of LLQ Hood Legend LLC 

For many individuals, the daily struggle revolves around compromising their access to fresh produce and wholesome food, often settling for artificial and processed options available at local convenience stores. In these neighborhoods, the majority of residents lack access to healthier alternatives. 

“A child wakes up with [hunger pains], and goes to the corner store and gets two bags of Flamin Hots at the cost of two for a dollar and a juice, for breakfast. It quiets the stomach from buzzing. Children don’t know what it’s doing to them, they know it’s quieting their stomach pains, long enough until lunch.” Airrion Purvis  

Moreover,the few options that do emerge are short-lived, with closures attributed to declining sales, increasing shrink rates, and patrons purchasing less compared to more affluent areas, resulting in minimal profit margins.

By the Numbers

According to Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP Illinois), the Riverdale neighborhood is 96% African Americans and 58.2 % of its residents have a median income of less than $25,000 annually.

Looking further, 43% of the dwellers do not have access to a vehicle. This means over half of its residents more likely do not have the autonomy to purchase via grocery delivery service or pay for alternate transportation routes to get their groceries. This means fewer groceries, quick short term food choices, longer walks, and the struggle and potential fear of walking through neighborhoods that have low protective policing and high crime rates.

Poor Health and the Risk Factors Associated with a Poor Diet

Obesity and Food Insecurity

Experts highlight the lack of healthy food available, emphasizing the prevalence of highly processed, sugar-laden options. This issue, often dubbed the "Hot Cheetos Generation," is exacerbated by the gut's role in overall health,linking poor nutrition to conditions ranging from diabetes to depression. These consequences have grown over the years resulting from the changes in business practices and dietary changes that result from those business changes.

Impact of Processed Foods

“Processed foods, laden with hidden sodium and sugar, pose significant health risks.” Dr.Iris Nichole Patterson warns about the dangers of trans fats and the misleading labeling of processed products. Dr. Gerald Cook stresses the negative effects of sugar-heavy diets on cognitive function and physical performance. 

“The short term effects, sluggishness and fatigue. If [ a person] has any other predispositions they can produce pain or headaches based on the quality of the food. It’s much harder to digest certain foods, and if you’re a recreational athletes, you’re just not yourself. You want to play but your body is working."

The Body's Healing Potential

Despite these challenges, the body possesses remarkable regenerative abilities. Switching to a plant-based diet can yield rapid improvements in pain management and overall well-being. However, sustainable change requires a genuine desire for wellness and ongoing support, including coaching on meal planning and lifestyle adjustments.

 “It’s an environmental issue, most of the children in these food deserts have single mothers, which means she’s short or time, potentially stressed at work; and doesn’t have the energy herself required to feed her family with a healthy balanced diet.” Iris Nichole Paterson, states.

Promoting Health through Simplicity / The Healthy Food Trick

Living more simply, prioritizing sleep, and adopting intermittent fasting can aid in the body's natural detoxification and healing processes. By redefining our relationship with food and embracing holistic approaches to health, individuals can pave the way for lasting well-being.

Simplicity today comes with a price, what once was simple normal. Produce free of harmful or poisonous pesticides and rot retardant chemicals is now remarketed as Organically grown. These foods can be purchased at a high cost from WholeFoods, Marianos  and Trader Jones readily as well as others but at an exorbitant price range outside the capability of the average resident living in a food desert who has been directed by their physician to follow such a diet to improve their health.

The Psychology Of Poor Diet

Behind a very dark and smug curtain, you find the ramifications of food insecurity within food deserts in ways that are underreported in most stories. While it is understood for most, that low access to quality produce and nutritional options can cause exposure to health-related diseases, there’s also a mental health component that aids in the crime, desolation, and irritability of people who live in food-insecure neighborhoods.

In a 1994 interview Tupac Shakur responded to a question regarding the content of his rap lyrics using this reference:

“Every day, I'm standing outside trying to sing my wayin: We are hungry, please let us in. We are hungry, please let us in. After about a week that song is gonna change to: We hungry, we need some food. After two, three weeks, it's like: Give me the food Or I'm breaking down the door. After a year you're just like: I'm picking the lock. Coming through the door blasting.”

The conversations surrounding Chicago’s inner city youth and the crime within it, tends to focus on the crime element, with very little focus on how it occurs, there’s a great deal of attention to the prevention of crime but not its nucleus.

Food Insecurity and Crime

Dr. Alauna Curry, an expert in Empathy Skills and Trauma psychiatry, discusses the link between food insecurity and mental health:

“When one is experiencing ‘depression’... these ‘states’ impact the entire body. The affected brain is responsible for controlling all areas of the body, so we ‘feel’ our emotions in our GI tract...”

Regarding survival instincts and behavior, Dr. Curry notes: 

“Our bodies are literally designed for survival... The urges that arise... are enough to drive a person to insanity.” 

On the systemic injustices exacerbating food insecurity, Dr. Curry highlights: 

“Therefore,consider the cruelty and trauma inherent in being... part of a community systematically tormented... Generations of these people had to decide to figure out how to feed their families outside of the legal system...”

In addressing health equity, Dr. Curry emphasizes: 

“The journey towards good health for Black and Brown residents in Chicago is not without obstacles... The term ‘food desert’ fails to capture the full extent of this crisis...” 


As we confront the realities of food insecurity in Chicago, it becomes evident that addressing this issue requires more than just increasing the number of grocery stores in underserved areas. It demands a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of inequity, including systemic racism, economic inequality, and the legacy of disinvestment in marginalized communities.

Moreover,the correlation between food insecurity and crime underscores the urgency of this issue. When individuals and communities are deprived of basic necessities like food, they are forced to resort to desperate measures to survive,perpetuating a cycle of poverty and violence. It is imperative that we recognize the interconnectedness of these issues and work towards comprehensive solutions that prioritize equity, dignity, and justice for all residents.

Long-time Congressman Danny K. Davis, currently involved in the House of Representatives Food Deserts Act Bill, aims to address food disparities. The bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture to provide grants to support the establishment of grocery stores in underserved areas. Regarding food deserts in Chicago, Davis stated, "Food deserts are regions... where people have limited access to healthy and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables... Our children in these communities grow up at a health disadvantage... sometimes children have not even seen an apple."

Ultimately, achieving health equity requires not only expanding access to nutritious food but also dismantling the structural barriers that perpetuate inequality and marginalization. It requires a collective commitment to social justice and a recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their zip code or socio-economic status. Only then can we truly create communities where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and lead healthy,fulfilling lives. Right now, separate still equals hungry.

This article is part of the Segregation Reporting Project, made possible by a grant from Healing Illinois, an initiative of the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Field Foundation of Illinois that seeks to advance racial healing through storytelling and community collaborations. The project is inspired by “Shame of Chicago, Shame of a Nation,” a new documentary that addresses the untold legacy of Chicago’s systemic segregation. Managed by Public Narrative, this endeavor enlisted five local media outlets to produce impactful news coverage on segregation in Chicago while maintaining editorial independence.

Continue to Part 2 Here

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